Andy Oram, Editor, O'Reilly Media, Inc.
Track: Emerging Topics
Date: Friday, July 30
Time: 10:45am - 11:30am
Location: Salon D
While technical publishers strive to adapt to new online media and
formats, efforts at self-education by computer users are becoming a
form of true grass-roots documentation. This talk discusses the
strengths and weaknesses of each side--traditional books and user
self-education--and suggests how they may converge. It offers
suggestions for improving the educational effects of mailing lists,
computing project web sites, and other community documentation.
The best traditional books possess many virtues: appropriate pacing, a
knowledge of the audience, meaningful technical background, and good
structure. However, these traditional books take too long and make too
many compromises in order to reach a large audience and boost sales.
In turn, community education efforts (the rich environment of mailing
lists, newsgroups, chat rooms, and project web sites) offer immediate
answers to questions from knowledgeable peers. However, they suffer
from time wasted in searching for information, results that are
unreliable, and difficulties in knowing where to start.
User education can be improved by promoting active community
participants to become formal contributors, incorporating
professionals into community documentation, nurturing new users,
pointing people to documents, and enhancing rating systems. The Safari
Bookshelf is an example of professional online documentation that can
enhance user efforts. Some other current limitations of the community
environment for learning are the domination of English, a difficulty
in respecting cultural differences and different learning styles, and
gaps in documentation.